Jesus Revolution Doesn’t Suck

I told Brent McCorkle’s (co-director) about our tagline, “Christian Movies Shouldn’t Suck” (he laughed) and then I said, “Congratulations, brother. Your film didn’t suck.”
Image courtesy of Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

I had the privilege of seeing Jesus Revolution in Arlington, TX.  A friend of Brent McCorkle’s (co-director) invited me and my son to go see it since McCorkle is from Arlington and he did a meet and greet\Q&A afterwards.  

The film is co-directed by Jon Erwin and stars Kelsey Grammer as Chuck Smith and Jonathan Roumie as Lonnie Frisbee, the men who were used of God so instrumentally in the Jesus Movement in Southern California.  Joel Courtney plays Greg Laurie, who is now a pastor and evangelist within the Calvary Chapel churches.  

I held out more hope than average that this film could actually be good based on the trailer, but that is often a fool’s game.  A good editor can make any trailer look brilliant.  I went expecting to be disappointed on a lot of fronts, but this film turned out to be very, very good.  When I introduced myself to Brent I told him about our tag line, “Christian Movies Shouldn’t Suck” (he laughed) and then I said, “Congratulations, brother. Your film didn’t suck.”  

The film is not perfect, but the highlights are enough to make anyone, Christian or not, go see it.

For example, the musical score was refreshing. In Christian film, it’s not often popular music gets used, but when you are doing a film about The Jesus Movement you have to include something from popular music in the Sixties and this film did much more than give “something.”  The selections were spot on.  

Along with the music, the wardrobe was spot on.  Wardrobe is just one element of Christian film that usually sucks, but the film makers captured hippie culture and the rest of the era beautifully.  

McCorkle explained how they captured some of the scenes in what almost looked like actual film rather than digital. While they filmed it all in digital, they did some brilliant work by aging the lenses to make the movie have a film look for certain scenes.  If you love actual reel footage, you will appreciate it.  

But what carries this film is the writing and the acting.  Movie goers will forgive almost anything if the story is beautiful, good and true (to life).  The plot depicting the story of Lonnie and Chuck running in parallel to Greg Laurie’s conversion story illustrated what The Jesus Movement did for real people who experienced it. The preaching in the film, which is usually stilted and forced in Christian film, does not come across as forced here because it’s an integral part of the Calvary Chapel story.  Further, the preaching depicted did not soft-sell sin, repentance, or Jesus.  This, in spite of the film being distributed by Lionsgate which has a reputation among some film makers in the past for their heavy handed editing to take the bite out of the gospel message.  

Jonathan Roumie did a great job with this role, depicting not only the highlights in Frisbee’s time with Chuck Smith, but alluding to what would eventually be his falling away from the faith. Kelsey Grammer has not been shy about this film, breaking down in tears in a recent interview on Live with Kelly and Ryan.  You can tell that he’s emotionally into the role in the movie and he does an excellent job. This was a passion project for him.  Joel Courtney and Anna Grace Barlow have real chemistry in their roles as future Mr. and Mrs. Greg Laurie.  All of it was believable.  

My major concern with the film is one that I’ve had with just about all Christian film since about the time of Kirk Cameron’s Fireproof.  Because they are marketed to the Hallmark demographic, they are usually about 20 minutes too long in order to fit in all of the gratuitous tear jerkers.  This film didn’t need them since I was in tears about half an hour into it.  By the time most Christian films are over, you’re just glad that you can escape without feeling like a mom with her hair in rollers and mascara running all over your face.  This wasn’t quite as bad in Fireproof, but it was close.  It’s unnecessary.

A lesser concern but still a concern since it deals with the issue of truthfulness in Christian film is how the film did the “rest of the story” statements for the characters at the end. At the end the writers state flatly that Lonnie Frisbee was still preaching Jesus at the end of his life.  I don’t have the exact quote, but that statement is misleading (putting it as graciously as I can) to audiences.  Frisbee ended up divorcing his wife Connie, went back to homosexuality, and eventually died of HIV\AIDS.  Before he died, he did repent of this and he came back to Christ.  In a visit with Greg Laurie on his deathbed, he told him that he believed he would be healed and preach again.  That never happened.  Greg tells the story very honestly in a recent interview with influencer KD Ruslan and does so with a very balanced take on that tragic part of the story.  

I can only speculate as to why they decided to frame the rest of Frisbee’s story this way, so I won’t say too much about it.  I do wonder if this is an example of Lionsgate or someone else tinkering with the ending in order to keep it in the “feel-good” vibe of the rest of the movie.  As Laurie points out in the interview, God always uses flawed people.  And you cannot tell this story without talking about Frisbee.  It might have been better to leave the rest of his story unexplained than to mislead viewers, no matter the reason.

I suppose that’s a spoiler of sorts, but I hope you will see this film.  Watch it and be reminded of the power of the Gospel to not only really change people’s lives like Greg and Cathy Laurie, but its power to confront an entire culture with the truth claims of Jesus Christ.